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Fragile Circle Paperback – June, 1998

4.3 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The personal memoir has become the genre of choice for many writing about AIDS. Works such as Mark Doty's Heaven's Coast, Fenton Johnson's Geography of the Heart, and Amy Hoffman's Hospital Time have brought home to many readers the pain, suffering, and emotional confusion engendered by the disease by detailing the daily routine of caring for a loved one with AIDS. Mark Senak's A Fragile Circle is distinct from other AIDS memoirs in that it charts the crisis from two specific perspectives. In the mid-1980s, right after law school, Senak began working at New York's Gay Men's Health Crisis. There was little doubt then that an AIDS crisis existed, but what to do about it remained an enormous question. Senak writes of the confusion and near-despair that reigned at the time as lawyers, social workers, and doctors attempted to address problems they had never identified, let alone faced, before. Senak simultaneously tells the story of his relationship with Joe, an HIV-positive man also diagnosed with lung cancer. These sections form the emotional heart of A Fragile Circle and infuse the rest of Senak's tales of legal and social activism with passion and insight. One vital aspect of AIDS writing is to bear witness, and this A Fragile Circle does beautifully. --Michael Bronski

From Publishers Weekly

Senak, best known as one of the authors of HIV, AIDS and the Law, was a lawyer who became part of the AIDS community by drawing up wills for the dying and who was later involved in such prominent AIDS organizations as New York's Gay Men's Health Crisis and AIDS Project Los Angeles. In this memoir of the AIDS epidemic from it's beginnings in 1981 to the introduction of protease inhibitors in 1995, he relays his own experiences with AIDS, from facing dying men daily, to losing his partner to AIDS, to his own painstaking decision to finally take an HIV test. Combining personal experience with a clinical documentation of the epidemic's growth, Senak at once conveys the broad, social implications of AIDS and its impact on individuals whose lives it consumes. Senak has a broad knowledge and a close vantage point, but those advantages are somewhat undermined by his clumsy writing style and the unfortunately flat portraits of his friends and colleagues (interestingly, the most lively person in the book is the late actor Brad Davis, who befriended Senak when Davis first tested positive for HIV).
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 295 pages
  • Publisher: Alyson Books; 1st edition (June 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555834604
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555834609
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,106,065 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
A Fragile Circle provides a very honest and personal account of what went on in the hearts and minds of many who were most directly in the path of HIV from the outset. As a surviving 'footsoldier', Mark Senak's account of having been plunged into a state of secret panic, paranoia, ostracism and devastating loss is told in a way that not only challenges our collective level of compassion and response to this pandemic but holds the reflective mirror in a way that one is bound to examine the truth of our very own brand of fear and denial.
I felt the book flowed easily, was engaging and very conversational with many moments of wit, insight and interesting metaphor - without feeling contrived or 'cute'. Senak has the natural grace of the few who can share themselves so personally without the self importance or indulgence that can reduce so much to so little in the end.
You might expect page after page of a book on this subject to be morbid, angry and certainly bitter. ! After all, well beyond their rightful place at the table, those feelings are the cornerstones of many of our experiences with AIDS. For me, this book is not simply about reliving the early days of the HIV and AIDS crisis, it's about ordinary people living through and doing extraordinary things, finding courage we wouldn't imagine possible and being presented with the greatest revelations of love in the process.
I decided to take the time to write this review because I hope this book finds its way into the hands of every and anyone interested in what has taken place below the surface of life in 'the now'...Because as tragic and untenable as living through an entire generation of HIV and AIDS is, A Fragile Circle memorializes that fact but reminds us that ultimately, beyond the pain of consciousness, reconciliation is very different than acceptance, and an important part of both living and healing.
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Format: Paperback
This frequently moving memoir wears three distinctly different hats. First, it is a vivid portrait of a young lawyer who feels compelled to join the front lines of the emerging AIDS crisis. Senak was there at the beginning in the early 1980s, when the main work of those who cared was to help people die, when no one knew how the disease was transmitted or who would get it. The first third of the book presents some astounding stories, both of cowardice and cruelty and extraordinary courage. Second, it is a moving love story as Senak chronicles his meeting and brief, happy existence with Joseph, a waiter/actor with AIDS who turns to him for help. Third, it is a tale of an altogether different existence for Senak as he moves to Los Angeles and witnesses the disease invading ever more privileged and glamorous circles.
This multi-tiered perspective of the effect of this plague on the American social fabric gives Senak's book a special fascination. As in many first-person accounts of personal crisis, his passages of tortured self-analysis occasionally provoke impatience. There is ample compensation in the sparely written, and therefore all the more powerful, passages that recount in stark fashion the gradual decline and death of his partner. In these pages, Senak's work joins a select body of great literature that has arisen from this dark and still ongoing chapter in American social history.
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Format: Paperback
Full disclosure - as founding president of NY's Bar Association for Human Rights, I was present to observe some of the events Mark Senak describes in this important and touching memoir of the AIDS epidemic. This is an important book, especially for younger folks who came of age at a later point in the epidemic and whose understanding of the current challenges should be informed by the experiences of the past. Unfortunately, it appears that Mark's manuscript received the kind of "hands-off" editing characteristic of all too many small presses today. A really good editor would have helped him to shape it into a much more effective book, and a thorough copy editor would have taken care of the occasional incomplete sentences, run-together sentences, and rare but distracting grammatical faux pas. But that's beside the point and doesn't get in the way of communication. Some of the stories he has to tell are absolutely priceless and compelling, especially concerning his experiences in supervising deathbed will ceremonies and the support and care for his lover, Joe. I urge those concerned with AIDS issues to read this book.
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I bought this book because I went to junior high school with Mark, and knew him and his friend Neil, quite well for a year or two. I had lost track of both of them once they got out of high school, and only very recently learned of Neil's death from AIDS. To be honest, this discovery was also my discovery that Neil was gay. I had had a crush on him in the 8th grade that was not reciprocated (now I know why, of course), and over the years had wondered what had happened to him. Now I know. The plague that is AIDS got him before there was any hope of medical help.

Given this personal view of events, I am not very objective about the book. It is a pretty well written book, and it shows the horror of living with the fact that those you love are dying all around you. Mark's bravery in helping his lover and friends in his time of need is to be commended. Although I am very sad for all the ones who died, I am grateful for those who have lived to tell the tale and fight the fight. I don't know if Mark will ever read this review, but it may give him some hope to know that people he never expected are praying for a cure for this disease, which has assumed global pandemic proportions.

Thank you for writing this book, Mark. And thank you for the sensitive portrayal of Neil's life and death. If only it need never have happened.
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